Big cloud country: Microsoft’s $10bn plan to connect rural America

11 Jul 2017

Image: Johnny Adolphson/Shutterstock

Microsoft has a big sky plan to connect millions of Americans in rural areas to broadband.

Software giant Microsoft is to propose a $10bn programme to bring broadband to rural America and kick-start economic growth.

The public-private partnership will make use of TV ‘white spaces’ to send data over unused or former broadcast frequencies. According to The New York Times, Microsoft proposes providing seed money to local telecoms operators that can provide white-space internet access.

Entitled the Rural Airband Initiative, the plan is to connect more than 2m Americans in 12 states within the next five years.

The overall effort will bring 23.4m Americans to the right side of the digital divide.

IT is in the air

The proposed plan will be unveiled during a speech by Microsoft president Brad Smith in Washington, DC today (11 July).

The initial target states are: Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

It is understood that FCC chairman Ajit Pai is to travel to areas of southern Virginia to visit a pilot project that demonstrates Microsoft’s Rural Airband technology.

Offering the technology and the cash, Microsoft will recoup its investment by collecting a share of future service revenue.

White-space technology – sometimes known as super Wi-Fi – behaves like regular Wi-Fi but uses low-power TV signals to cover greater distances. It is more powerful than cellular services for penetrating concrete walls.

Microsoft is also planning to work with groups such as the National 4-H Council to boost digital literacy training in the rural areas of America.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years